Wednesday, February 14, 2007

dookey et decorum est

Rae tells me all about Stanley, the chest pain we're hurrying to on blue lights across town. Stanley is a frequent caller. When Stanley is fully active he phones 999 at least three times a day, and although his address is tagged, he still manages to present at A&E a couple of times a day. I've been on the road for six months now but he's one of the last frequent fliers I haven't run into yet. I'm looking forward to crossing another regular off my list.
'Whatever happens, don't get drawn into his flat. I'm serious. It's a trap. He'll keep you talking and we'll never get away. Just make sure he comes out to the ambulance, so we can play the game and do the tests - and then he'll say he can't possibly leave his dog, and go back inside.'
Stanley has a springer spaniel called Dookey, the one lovely thing in his life.
'Another thing he likes to do is come to the door in just his pants. So make sure you ask him to put some trousers on. He gets a big kick out of parading around in the buff, so watch out.'
The address is in an expensive part of town. I tell Rae that I came to another place here a few months back, and what an amazing house it was. Rae says that Stanley is renting a flat that's got potential but is pretty down-at-heel. In fact, Stanley is pretty down-at-heel.
'He's got some great paintings on the walls, and some nice sticks of furniture. I don't know what his story is. Some ruined old queen soaking up the inheritance. Dookey's lovely, though.'
We pull up outside the flat.
'Look. He's got the door open and ready for you.' She gives me a big grin. 'He's all yours.'

From the outside the Georgian building fits right in with the grand sweep of the terrace. It's a pleasure just to step up onto its wide pavements and push open the heavy iron gate. What a prospect of the city, too. But stepping through the door into the hallway I feel a percentage slide in the health of the building. There is a familiar, sweetly damp smack to the air, sporing up off the ruined carpet.
'That's his door, there.' She is standing beneath the sickly yellowed shade of the hall light and its pretentiously pendant glass diamonds. She reaches up expertly, plucks one off and hangs it from her ear.
'What do you think? Nice?'
I knock on the flat door and say 'Ambulance'.
'Come in. Come in. Don't stand on ceremony.'
I push the door open and peer inside. Another little hallway. Heavy gilt frames on the wall; a spread of disapproving Edwardians. Fronds of cigarette smoke reach around me, followed by a voice from the living room.
'I really am very sick this time. Honestly, this is the worst it's ever been.'
He shuffles out of the gloom towards me, wearing a soiled white dress shirt and an athletic support. 'Hello. You're new.' And then 'Dookey! Decorum!' as a beautiful springer spaniel dodges around him and leaps up to put her paws on my chest. 'Do come in. Don't mind the idiotic hound. 'Dookey! A la cuisine! Maintenant!'
Dookey runs out into the hallway. Rae scrunches up a pair of gloves into a ball and starts playing with her.
'I'm teaching Dookey another language,' Stanley says with a sniff. And then: 'Well, aren't you coming in?'
'Stanley, I need you to put some trousers on, some shoes and a jacket, and then walk out to the ambulance with us so we can run some tests. Okay?'
Stanley narrows a look at me, and it feels as if I am being scrutinised by an enormous cigarette. I want to pick him up by the legs and tap the ash out of his hair.
'If you insist - Dookey! Decorum! - I will follow your instructions to the letter. But you must understand, I could never leave my dog. She's all I have left.'
He turns and shuffles off to find some trousers.

When he eventually appears again, Rae and I have been playing catch with Dookey in the hall. She is a fantastic dog, with sleek, well-conditioned fur and a pair of bright brown eyes. Frankly, I am amazed that she is in such good shape. A professional breeder would be proud of this animal. She doesn't even smell of cigarettes.
Stanley appears at his flat door again.
'Dookey! Retournes à ton panier!'
Dookey looks up at us both, seeming so smart and self-possessed it would not surprise me if she held out a paw to shake, then trots inside. Stanley pulls the door to.
'Well I think you should put some shoes on, Stanley. It's pouring with rain outside.'
'I don't believe in shoes. I learned to live without them in Malta.'
Rae leads the way as I help Stanley out of the building, across the pavement and down to the ambulance. He does seem frail, although he's only about sixty, and it is hard to tell how much of this vulnerability is an act. By reputation, all of it.
On the vehicle we lay Stanley on the trolley and begin the usual run of tests.
Stanley directs his attention to Rae.
'You have beautiful dark eyes,' he says. 'Proud and lovely. Moorish bloodline?'
'Don't you remember me, Stanley?', she sighs, 'I've been out to you enough times.'
'No. I'm afraid I don't.'
Rae had told me earlier that once she had been called out to see him and he had been in a terrible mood. Despite all their efforts he had rung headquarters to make a complaint. Later that day they had been called out to him again. Not only did he fail to recognise them, but he told them all about the awful crew that had attended him that morning, the dreadful things they had done, not nearly as nice as you two etcetera.
Stanley is watching her intently. 'I can tell you don't like me,' he says.
Rae puts a blanket over his legs and then says: 'Spence, I'm going to sit in the front. Are you okay just to canter through these things? I just don't think I can bear to do all this again.'
I tell her it's fine. It's already apparent that the chest pain Stanley rang us about is put on. All his observations are coming through okay, and his overall demeanour - although not exactly healthy - is not that of someone having a heart attack or any other acute illness.
When Rae is sitting in the cab, Stanley leans up from the pillow and looks up at me, with an expression I last saw on his dog.
'Could you convey my deepest apologies to your colleague? I really did not mean to upset her.'
I tell him that I will certainly do it.
He relaxes back. Then: 'I do think she's awfully cruel, though.'
'Stanley, she's doing her very best to help you. She certainly does care about you. But I have to say, you're not doing anything to help yourself.'
He stares at me.
'Have you heard the story about the little boy who cried Wolf!'
He stares at me.
'There's a little shepherd boy who....'
'Yes! Yes! I know the story!' he snaps. 'And I must say I don't much care for being called a liar.'
'Stanley. I haven't met you before but I am well aware of the number of times you have called 999. You must realise that this is not the way to carry on. It's not fair - for lots of reasons.'
'Well I'm not going to hospital,' he says, swinging his legs over the side of the trolley and sitting up. He disdainfully hooks the blanket from his lap. 'I could never leave my dog.'
It seems pointless trying to talk to him further. I show him where to sign the paperwork to say he will not be travelling to hospital tonight. He makes a childishly extravagant flourish with the pen, obliterating half the form.
'That,' he says, giving me back my pen, 'can never be repeated.'

I walk him back to the front door. He fumbles with the keys, mumbling something about the lock being difficult, but I push it open to show that he left it on the latch.
'Many thanks,' he says. And as I turn to go, 'Please convey once again my sincerest apologies to your friend.'
I turn back to the ambulance, and the door clicks shut behind me.